Friday, October 17, 2014

Felt or Straubinger?

Left to right: Straubinger, hard pressed felt, soft woven felt

Many flutists will send their instruments off to the repair shop and learn they need to have their pads replaced.  At that point, the repair technician may ask, "Which would you prefer -- felt or Straubinger?"  Hmm...  So, how do you choose?  Well, we spoke with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out more about the pads and get her recommendations...

A quick review of the pads with Rachel helped us recall the difference in materials:

Felt pads - cardboard backing, pressed felt, skin (bladder skin covering)
Straubinger pads - plastic backing, microfiber, skin (bladder skin covering)

Rachel told us that the pads each have different characteristics based on their composition.  In terms of feel, the materials create a noticeable difference because the pads will hit the cups differently when you play.  The felt has more give and can handle extra upward pressure (exerted on the pad when you close the key cup), so she said they tend to be better for people with "heavier" hands.  The Straubinger pads have a crisper response than the felt, so someone with a lighter touch may prefer these.  The Straubinger pads also tend to have more stability because they are made from synthetic materials.  The natural materials in the felt pads fluctuate more with changes in atmospheric conditions, so, for instance, a flutist living in a very humid climate would probably not have as much luck with the felt pads because of the humidity.  In terms of sound, one might not realize, but there is a difference.  Rachel said that one pad is not better than the other -- it just all depends on the player's sound preferences.  If you think about the physics behind sound production on the flute, as air travels through the instrument, there will be a difference in sound because of the difference in materials (felt or synthetic pads) closing the tone holes.  Sound discrepancies may be difficult to describe, but some players may note general color/quality differences such as a "brighter" or "darker" sound, depending on their choice of pads.

Signature flute with Straubinger pads in for a COA.

When speaking with customers, Rachel said that she asks several questions to determine what type of pad might be best for them.  First, she asks what type of pads are currently on the flute.  Many flutists may not know which type of pads they have, but that is okay.  Rachel will continue with more questions about the type of playing the flutist does, where they live, what type of sound they prefer, and any issues they may be having with the flute.  For instance, we noted in the previous paragraph that someone living in a humid climate might have problems with felt.  When it comes to type of playing, she asks, "Do you play outdoors or indoors?   Marching band?  Concert band or orchestra?" Then, she asks about their preferences and any issues, "Is the sound too bright?  Too dark?  Not projecting enough?"  These questions help her get a sense of the flutist's preferences and also help paint a picture of the performance environment the flute will have with each customer.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Setting-Up" a Flute

A#, G#, and D are keys which people may prefer to have "set-up" differently.

Flute players often have preferences for the way their flute "feels" in terms of key heights, spring tension, and headjoint fit.  Flutes can be "set-up" by repair technicians to meet the preferences of their customers.  So, what exactly is involved in setting up a flute?  We spoke with flute finisher Lindsey McChord to find out...

Lindsey told us that "set-up" adjustments are easy to do on a finished flute.  Here at Powell, she sets-up flutes during the testing process.  She mentioned spring tension adjustments and key heights/angles as two main areas that are part of this process.  For instance, she said that if the player has a light touch, the flute can be set-up with lighter spring tension.  Contrarily, if the flutist has a heavy touch, the flute would be set-up with higher spring tension.  Lindsey tries to keep a slightly lighter tension on keys that are connected to other keys -- for instance, A# anf F#.  She said that if one of the connected keys already has a heavier spring tension, the A# and F# would feel even heavier, so she lightens them up a bit.  In terms of key heights, she mentioned that they can also be adjusted.  In some cases, it may be the key height and/or angle.  For example, when Lindsey purchased her Powell, she asked to have the C1 key raised just a bit.  Many people will also have preference for the G# key -- some people want it to be straight, and some people prefer more of an angle.  The A# key is also one that people might have preferences for in regard to the key's height and angle.  Players may have additional requests for key size, too.  In Lindsey's case, the D# key on her footjoint was a stretch for her, so she asked to have the key made slightly larger.

Finally, headjoint fit is a large part of the set-up process.  Some people like a looser fit, and some people prefer a fit that is tighter.  When it comes to headjoint fit, there is no gauge.  It is simply a matter of feel.  Both Lindsey and Rebecca Eckles, Director of Quality and Service, prefer to have the headjoint fitting smoothly and securely, so that the body will not drop off should someone grab the flute by the headjoint (which, by the way, you really don't want to happen!).  Lindsey shared that the headjoint fit is certainly subjective, but since flutists tune with the headjoint (pushing it in and pulling it out constantly), the fit is definitely an important part of the set-up process.

Yellow arrow points to C1, which people may have set-up differently.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Trying New Crowns

Silver, 10k, 14k, and 19.5k crowns
Recently, we've had several inquiries from flutists wanting to try different crowns.  Even though it is a very small part of the flute, the crown can make a big difference -- as you might remember from our "Changing the Crown" post on Flute Builder. 

So, if you are interested in trying a different crown, you may be wondering what options you have...  Can you put a gold crown on a silver headjoint?  A silver crown on a gold headjoint?  Gold or silver crowns on Aurumite headjoints?  Well, after speaking with Powell's Director of Quality and Service, Rebecca Eckles, we found out that essentially any metal-to-metal option would work, because the crowns are all the same size and can fit any headjoint.  But, this is only with metal.

If you have a wooden headjoint, you would not be able to switch out its crown for an all metal one.  Also, you would not be able to put a wooden crown on a metal headjoint.  The reason for this is because wooden crowns are larger in size that metal crowns, so the two are not interchangeable. 

If you are interested in trying a new crown, try a few different ones.  Here are Powell, we have silver, 10k, 14k, and 19.5k crowns.  You can order one directly from the Powell VQP Shop at

Without crowns in this picture, you can see the size difference between metal and wooden headjoints.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Overhaul

Powell Repair Technician Rachel Baker working on an overhaul.
In a previous post here on Repair My Flute, we covered the topic of how one determines whether their flute needs a COA or an overhaul.  You can read that post by following this link.

If it is time for an overhaul, you may have wondered what exact steps are involved in the process.  We have the answer from the repair page of the Powell website as you will see below...
The Overhaul involves the complete disassembly and reconditioning of an instrument. The time between overhauls is dependent on many factors, including climate and the quality and frequency of C.O.A.’s. A rough average would be three to five years. For a normal overhaul the labor charge is $1000.00 for flutes and $725.00 for piccolos, and the only parts cost is a set of pads. Expect to be without your flute for four weeks or piccolo for three weeks while it is being overhauled. Overhauls are warranted for 90 days.

1. The instrument is play tested and checked for all mechanical and structural work that will be required. The client will be contacted if the required work exceeds the authorized limit, and the charges will be discussed.

2. All pinned sections are taken apart; pads are removed and thrown away.
3. Corks, felts, foams and headjoint cork are removed and thrown away.

4. The flute is cleaned in an ultrasonic bath to remove dirt, oil and grease. The flute body and keys are then dipped in a tarnish remover.

5. Swedging, replacement of worn pins, and key fitting, as well as required mechanical and bodywork are done, as per findings in #1 above.

6. The precious metal parts are shined and treated with silver polish.

7. Pads are installed.

8. Corks, felts and foams are attached. The headjoint cork assembly is polished and a new headjoint cork is installed.

9. The keys are oiled and assembled.

10. During the final padding process the instrument is played frequently so that pads can settle. Adjustments are made.

11. The instrument is play tested.

12. The instrument case is cleaned and polished, then shimmed (if necessary) so that the instrument fits snugly.

Exclusions: The removal of scratches, nicks and dents is done only at the client’s request, and is charged by the hour. A bearing job may be required if the right and left hand sections exhibit side play in the F# post at the cost of $213.00. Re-soldering of un-soldered tone holes is charged by the hour.

You may schedule an overhaul directly through the Powell website. Click here to visit the repair scheduling link.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Packing It Up - Part Two

Packing a headjoint for shipping
In a previous post, we shared tips and techniques for properly packing your instruments to ship them for repair.  The post, which you can read by following this link, also demonstrated how to pack headjoints and crowns.

We thought about a few more scenarios and revisited our Shipping Manager, Chris Lavoie.  Specifically, we wondered about shipping your flute and piccolo together in one box.  To do this, you'll want to make sure you have a box large enough to fit both instruments.  It's best to have the flute and piccolo each in their own case and then in their own box.  Then, you'll want to place foam (or comparable packing material) on the bottom of the shipping box.  Next, place the flute in the shipping box and the piccolo on top of the flute.  Make sure there is packing material completely around the flute and piccolo.  You'll notice a gap from the edge of the piccolo box to the edge of the flute box.  All you need to do to remedy this is to fill the gap with more packing material, as you will see in the photos below.
Gap at the end of the piccolo box.
Foam will fill the gap!
Also, we've had many inquiries about engraving, and we mentioned in a previous post that for lip plate engraving, you only need to send in your headjoint.  As with the instruments, you will want to place the headjoint securely in a small box that will then go into a shipping box.  The small box for the headjoint itself should hold the headjoint securely.  Chris tells us that you want to secure the headjoint so that it does not rattle or otherwise move in the box once it's closed.  We are a bit spoiled here at Powell because we have boxes that specifically are made with fitted foam inserts that hold the headjoint securely in place.  If you don't have this, just make sure that the headjoint is well padded and secured within the box, and you should be fine.

Headjoint secured with foam insert
If you need shipping materials, don't forget that we have flute shipping boxes with foam inserts in the shipping supply section of our online VQP Shop -- and always remember to put an extra layer of padding on top of the box contents.  Craft stores are also a great place to find soft packing materials like foam.  As long as the items you are shipping are secured and do not move within the box, they should have a safe journey!

Always remember to cover box contents with extra padding

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Care Tips for Wooden Instruments

Powell Grenadilla Custom with 14k rose gold mechanism

Break-in Period 

A brand new wooden instrument must be properly broken in to assure the instrument reaches its fullest potential. For the first two months you should play your instrument for no more than twenty minutes at a time. Let it rest for four hours, making sure you swab your instrument immediately after each playing session. During the first month, do not play the instrument more than twice a day; during the second month, you may increase the frequency to three times a day. After the first two months, gradually increase both the time and frequency of playing sessions until, after six months, the instrument may be regarded as fully broken in.

Preventing Cracks

A well made and well cared for wooden instrument will improve with age and give you years of delight. To minimize the chance of cracks occurring, two cautions are absolutely essential: 
(1) Avoid rapid changes in temperature (keep the instrument well insulated and do not leave it in your automobile), and (2) Never allow standing moisture to accumulate in your flute or piccolo, especially in the headjoint. 

The benefits of oiling are an improved appearance and a slight increase in the moisture resistance of the wood. Only Powell Flutes or an authorized Powell repair technician should undertake the task of applying oil to the bore of a body or footjoint. Your wooden headjoint may benefit from an occasional application of almond oil to the bore and embouchure hole after it is at least one year old. Use only pure pressed almond oil. Use extreme caution in wiping around the embouchure hole, as the delicate edges of the hole might become damaged. After it is applied the oil must be wiped off thoroughly but gently.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fall Back into Flute Care!

So, the time has come -- it's fall, and many college students are back in high gear performing in lessons and ensembles after a long summer break.  That being said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind in terms of flute care and maintenance to help students as they shift back into a heavier practice and performance routine.

1.  One simple step you can take as a flutist is to swab out your flute and/or piccolo during rehearsals.  There will always be at least a few pauses or breaks when you can swab out your instruments.  College and university rehearsals are certainly longer than those in high school, so don't limit yourself to swabbing out once at the end -- swab as many times as you need when you can!

2. Wiping down your instrument after you play is critical.  It might seem like it's, well, not that big of a deal to just put it away without wiping the outside, but it is!  You want to wipe down the instrument and headjoint to remove oil, dirt, and residue that can accumulate on the body, keys, and in the embouchure hole.  (Click here to read our previous post on this topic, "Keeping It Clean.")  Those quick breaks in rehearsals when you are not playing are also opportune moments to wipe down the instrument -- so keep a cloth on your lap or closeby!

3.  This may seem like a "no brainer," but it really is important to brush your teeth and wash your hands before you play.  Carry a toothbrush and toothpaste with you -- maybe "travel sized" ones that are small.  There is usually a bathroom where you can stop to brush your teeth and wash your hands before rehearsals.  In fact, you will probably see many people from your ensemble there at the same time!

3. Moisture will affect flute pads, so depending on how much you play and the humidity level of your environment, you may want to keep your case open and let your flute or piccolo "air out" a bit before you close the case and put your instrument away.  Of course, this should be done after you have thoroughly swabbed out the instrument.  There may not always be time to do this extra step, but if there is (say, after you finish practicing), it will definitely help.

4.  Finally, if you have the chance to run a rehearsal -- maybe a sectional, chamber group, flute choir, etc. -- make sure to give the ensemble players time to properly swab out, clean, and put their instruments away before they need to rush off to the next class, rehearsal, or lesson.  Your performers (and their instruments) will greatly appreciate this gesture, and it can really make a difference.

We're sure most of these tips are familiar, but in a college or university setting, the time one spends on his/her instrument can greatly increase -- so proper care for the instrument must match the demands on the instrument itself.  Just remember, the more you play, the more you will need to care for your flute.  Seize those maintenance "opportunities," keep yourself prepared, and your flute should definitely be able to keep up with you!